The Ashburton chainsaw massacre as park’s trees are felled

One of the casualties of Croydon Council’s over-eager tree maintenance

Croydon Council, which has declared a climate emergency and claims it wants to be a green borough, is chopping down and pollarding trees in one of its parks.

In the middle of the bird-nesting season.

Members of the Friends of Ashburton Park have expressed their dismay and disquiet over the work being undertaken by contractors to fell several apparently healthy, mature trees for “health and safety reasons”.

The fate of the trees often appears to have been determined by their positioning – close to the park’s iron railings – suggesting that, mostly, trees are being removed as a precautionary measure to avoid the council having any liabilities in the event that the tree might come down.

One Inside Croydon reader, who approached the workmen as they were pollarding a healthy tree in full springtime leaf and who mentioned that such work should never be conducted during the nesting season was told, tersely, “We ain’t seen no birds.”

Doomed: one of the trees, marked for felling

The timing of this crass act of eco-vandalism is suspected to be more to do with the borough’s budgeting periods than anything to do with good husbandry.

The council had written to the Friends of Ashburton Park, stating that their “contractor will be commencing works in the very near future subject to covid-19 constraints. With the new financial year, firm ground conditions and with no other events going at the moment this is a good time to get in and deal with various tree issues.

“The majority of the work is pruning however as previously stated the trees marked with X are to be removed due to health and safety-related issue.”

Or, as council leader Tony Newman said only a week ago, “We must not lose sight of the environmental challenges we still face…”, before adding some other insincere guff about working “to create a better, more environmentally sustainable borough”.

Hutchinson’s Bank, anyone?

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9 Responses to The Ashburton chainsaw massacre as park’s trees are felled

  1. That’s outrageous in a drought / heatwave!

    I’d like to meet their arboriculturist and ask if they have even an O level in Botany?

    It’s not hard to understand that sap rises in the summer and falls in the winter. To prune in summer therefore puts plant systems under huge stress. Bird life apart I will need to enquire whether there is any corporate vandalism planned for Wandle Park. I commend The Friends of Ashburton Park for their care and vigilance and can only hope they will be listened to.

    We need to lay more attention to what we ought to do during natural cycles rather than just financial ones.
    (George Wright, Secretary, The Friends of Wandle Park).

  2. Dan Kelly says:

    Why not seek a second opinion from a qualified arboriculturist.
    Quickly looking through an RHS pruning guide the words autumn and dormancy seem to apply in most cases and there are warnings as to not cutting some when in growth because of bad bleeding.
    Could you disrupt them by going for TPOs?

  3. Croydon Council does still appear to employ tree and woodland officers, so I wonder if they were (a) consulted over these fellings, and (b) if so, what reasons did they provide for each felling? With the local (and global) urgency for more urban trees, each tree felling should be justifiable to the friends group and to the public at large, ie trees should be felled for the right reasons (clear safety issues or disease) and not just out of a vague fear of liability, because the trees look old but are still safe, or because a misguided sense cutting trees would save money (ref: Sheffield City Council). Ideally the friends group would have been treated as grownup partners and consulted before any such work began so it’s a real shame if they weren’t, as this article suggests. To carry out tree work outside of winter is to be very ignorant of nature and is more about fitting in with contractor schedules than with concerns over tree welfare, at least in the case of tree pollarding. In the addiscombe railway park, the friends group have been consulted on projects where we had the chance to provide input before the project began and were able to provide feedback as the project progressed, eg the works around replacing the black horse lane bridge, which has worked quite well. Having Croydon Council’s Meike Weiser onboard with her experience and knowledge has also been a big factor whenever the right decisions were made for nature and for commonsense.

    • When Brick by Brick put in an application to take out 5 Ash Trees and 1 Red Maple on a site near me, the tree report wrongly assigned them to being of ‘poor quality,’ (which they certainly are not) so my confidence in any tree assessments is not high.

  4. Anthony Mills says:

    I am a qualified arboriculturalist. While most gardening books advise winter pruning, the most recent arb research looking at resource allocation within trees throughout the year suggests that in fact summmer pruning is the best time [and spring / bud-burst or autumn leaf-drop when most resources are needed as the worst] as there are most resources available for response to wounding and when metabolic activity is at its height to counter pathogen activity, with winter dormancy as the next best. So far as the prohibition on tree work after the end of March [recently revised to the end of February due to climate change] it is not tree work [or hedging or shrub pruning] per se that is unacceptable but the disturbance of bird nesting. Careful observation of a tree [or hedge or shrub] for a sufficient period will soon indicate, at this time of year with parents returning frequently with food for their young, whether it is inhabited with nesting birds. Any movement in or out of the tree may be followed up with binocular inspection. If it can be confidently confirmed that no nest are present then it is legitimate for pruning to proceed. While it may be easier to inspect them, how many thousands of domestic hedges have already been cut this year? Indeed there is an obligation to do so to keep sightlines clear. But how many were actually inspected before doing so?
    It is unlikely that the trees will have been felled without good reason and I would be very surprised if it has not resulted from an inspection revealing historical and ongoing biomechanical or decay issues. Although the risk of harm from falling trees is extremely low [about 6 people killed per year, less than 1 in 10 million, almost all from people venturing amongst trees in bad weather] where the potential ”target” is a busy road and a park which is currently much more frequented than even it’s usual business, the LA is obliged to make a decision about the risk which is defensible in court, or open itself to the possibility of extremely costly damages as in the recent case of Witley Parish Council v Cavanagh (2018) which cost the Parish Council £500k in damages :-
    With regard to ”disrupt them by going for a TPO”, it is the same LA that makes the TPO’s [the making of which imposes a substantial legal and administrative cost of its own], so trees on LA owned land are not normally subject to TPO’s as there is an assumption of beneficial and competent management. Croydon is emphatically not Sheffield.
    Also, with regard to the Friends group not being consulted, the article states ”The council had written to the Friends of Ashburton Park…”
    Not all tree work is vandalism, and curiously, many arb workers are the staunchest of conservationists…

  5. I quail at the thought of questioning a professional arborist and can only fall back on my own experience concerning tree treatment in a Croydon park. A couple of years ago around 30 saplings were planted in a local park during a drought but despite watering tubes, which were not tended to, most were lost (admittedly a few were snapped off by vandals.
    Regarding mature trees the RHS state that the optimum time for pollarding is “late winter / early
    spring.” What we have now is the hottest, driest early summer on record. Who is to say what the effects of this might be? Also, it is a fact that most birds nest in trees and this is nesting time. Even on the boundaries, cannot tree removal and pollarding where needed for safety reasons be left until late winter/ early spring? it seems part of the rationale is “the new financial year” and it ought to be possible to earmark funding for the optimum time. Concerning “consulting” that word is often used for instances where Friends groups are ‘informed’ of decisions made rather than consulted.

  6. Anthony Mills says:

    The Arboricultural Association instituted a campaign a few weeks ago asking the public to assist in watering newly planted trees The universal cuts to LA budgets, especially non-statutory services, have drastically reduced resouces available for maintenance.:- . Which is also no doubt why the most essential tree work is prioritised for the beginning of the financial year before the money runs out, or is possibly confiscated in current circumstances.
    As a Unison Steward I have lost count of the times I have had to remind members that ”consultation is not the same as negotiation”. The right to be consulted means only that the consultor should advise the consultee of the actions they propose to take and the consultee may reply. The consultor has no obligation to change anything in their proposed action as a result, they are just obliged to inform and listen, that’s all. It is definitely not a bargaining or negotiating process and I wish more were aware of the distinction. I have also argued, [unfortunately unsuccessfully] via the Croydon Parks, Woodlands and Greenspaces Forum on the occasion of the most recent revision of grounds maintanance contracts, for a greater formal role of ”Friends of” groups in decison making and contract specification. Of course, changes may, and frequently do, result from consultation as intended, but the ultimate power relation remains clear.

  7. Anthony Mills says:

    From the Arb.Association ”Guide to Tree Pruning”
    [ ]
    Scroll down to ”When to prune” :-
    ” Pruning should generally occur after the leaves have ‘flushed’ and hardened, so late spring through summer. There are some exceptions, however, as some species such as Birch, Walnut and Maples, will ‘bleed’ sap and risk losing valuable sugars in the process if pruned in early spring, therefore the pruning of these trees should be carried out when this risk is low i.e. summer or mid winter.” Of the 24 deciduous trees listed in the table only 6 are recommended for winter pruning, for the reason given above. For all the rest the optimum time so far as the tree is concerned is, as I said, late spring or summer, after bud-burst and leaf out and before leaf fall [which are the periods when resouces are most stretched – in making leaves and new growth, and in storing photosynthates for dormancy, winter root growth and next years growth]. Re the RHS advice on ”pollarding” [which is a distinct form of pruning, the original purpose of which was to produce either animal fodder annually or smallwood for various purposes on longer cycles], summer pruning tends to act to restrict growth, while winter pruning stimulates it. It is however irrelevant as this article is about felling not pollarding.

    • Mary Guruparan says:

      I take regular photo’s of what is happening in Ashburton Park, some I use to post to our Facebook page to keep our community informed.

      There are many mature annd beautiful trees in our park including our friends fruit orchard planted 4 years back and a dozen other trees planted by the Council last year.

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